Mike Blair and the Stonewalls
CD Release Party, ‘The Print’
4/30 • The Whiskey, 1 S. Front St.
Playing with Big Al Hall
“Here I come! Here I come!”
Most “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” fans are familiar with The Roots’ lyrics that open the show. Mike Blair and the Stonewalls are of the ilk and hope to one day hear it live in the studio while waiting out their anticipation back stage to be announced as the night’s musical guest.
If there is one thing that this band isn’t shy about, it’s admitting their love for Questlove (drummer, music producer of The Roots). I got to join in on the admiration while sitting down and chatting with half the members of the Stonewalls. It might have been Mike dropping a “Pelican Brief” reference on me over the phone while we were setting up the meet that assured me I was in for a candid interview.
Mike holds merit to his namesake as writer, acoustic guitarist and vocalist for the group. Long-time friend and former bandmate Michael Graham is an engineering mastermind when not busy handling the electric guitar. Also a genius of production is Nathan Purifoy, who taps the keys at live shows. Keeping it a family business, Blair’s sister, Sarah, contributes her talents to writing and singing, while Graham’s brother, David, is an artist beyond just playing the bass. The soul of the Stonewalls is the jazz-influenced keeper of the rhythms, Keith “Sexy Bear” Butler Jr.
The camaraderie runs deep between the Stonewalls, and it shows on and off stage. Though Mike, David and Keith were the only ones present at the interview, they still talked about the other three as though they, too, were with us. Audiences who have been captivated by the band’s Americana style and Blair’s soulful voice can delight in knowing that the band has immortalized their talents in the form of their first EP.
Four of the six members have had experience in a band setting before. Sarah is new to the practice, and David explored his music as a hobby. Mike and Michael had joined forces before and even recorded together in a previous collaboration. Nathan participated in many musical ventures, including the side project he currently has with Michael.
Local audiences may be familiar with the beats that “Sexy Bear” lays down, because as David says, “Keith played in every band possible.”
“I don’t play in every band,” Keith interjects. “But, I mean, I’ve played around with Charlie the Horse, Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine, and I was in another group called B-side Breakdown with some other friends from school.”
Being submersed in the realm of performing locally gives the Stonewalls a chance to feed off of other talent and relish in the support from fans. “It’s interesting,” Graham explains, “and I say that because I’m the oldest member in the band, and I remember a lot of what Wilmington’s music scene has been and what it’s gone through. . . . There was a really, really good music scene at one point, and from about that point onward it’s kind of hidden itself a little bit in terms of the really good talent. There are a lot of bands, including us, who go out there and play the songs we write, and that’s good to me. Wilmington could have stayed in that little funk and just become really horrible as a music scene. I think a lot of it was a lot of fresh college kids keep coming in and out of here, and a lot of them like to play, a lot of them like to write. There’s a lot of creative people. So they’re now getting to the point where [they say], ‘Well, let’s take it back over.’”
“The Print” is the title of Mike Blair and the Stonewalls’ debut album. It harnesses five dynamic songs and showcases the hard work and dedication of each band member, who made this record happen.
“The most proud I’ve ever been,” Blair exclaims. “I’m excited about it on a lot of levels, but I think in a year I’ll look back on it and go, ‘cool.’ I mean, there’s going to be parts of it I want to change because that’s maturing, I guess. In like a year and a half, my musical ideas for the band are going to be completely different. But I’m happy with it. I’m very pleased with it. I hope people respond to it. I hope it gets people to shows. That’s why we kind of wanted to make it ‘The Print,’ like it’s not us. It is us, but it’s not live Friday night or Saturday night.”
“What was it Michael said?” David rhetorically asks. “It was like you want the Mona Lisa, but you can’t have the Mona Lisa, so you get a print of it. Yeah, you want what you want, but you can’t have it so here’s as close as you can get to it. That was kind of the whole concept behind the name.”
Blair pledges that there will be numerous more albums to come, including an LP to be released in the fall. He ensures there is plenty of material sprouting from not only his head but his sister’s as well.
“I feel like everybody’s worked real hard to get this album done. And I feel like everybody’s worked to get this band where it needs to be. I think it’s an attribute to all of us being adults. This is our first time being adults. . . . My constant thought, my last word is this EP is us, but it’s not. It’s us for right now—the 2011 version of Mike Blair and the Stonewalls.”